Discussion Post: Role Of Parents In MG And YA Fantasy (Part 1)

Hello everyone, I would like to wish you a very happy Mother’s Day! I wanted to do something special on this occasion, so I came up with this idea for a discussion post – talking about the role of parents in today’s middle grade and young adult fantasy novels! I know it’s slightly long (thank goodness I decided to divide it into two parts!), but I’ve worked quite hard to put all this together, so I really hope you enjoy reading it and also express your opinions, since it is a discussion post. So without further ado, let’s start!

To put it bluntly, in most modern middle grade and young adult novels, the parents are neglected. And I am not even talking about the other characters’ parents, I am talking about the main character’s. I totally understand the reason. When the entire story is about a teenage girl who, one fine morning, discovers she has magical powers (just talking about a general thing here, not pointing to any book) why would anyone want to know about her mother? But including the parent(s) in the story does enhance it in some cases. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely love to see the parent-child relationship develop through the course of the story. But of course, there are also a lot of novels (especially MG) which involve the parents wholeheartedly.

In this post, we are going to go through the different types of roles parents have in MG and YA fantasies through the examples of popular books.

I think one of the most common parent-related trope is dead parent(s). It is very convenient to kill off one or both parents before the book even starts. I believe this is because a dead parent not only reduces the complexity of the story (no need to explain the main character’s relationship with them, etc), they also provide a certain backbone to the story, as the main character struggles to accept their deaths, or follow their footsteps etc. Dead parents usually mean that though they are not physically present throughout the events of the book, their presence is somehow felt. This trope has been executed in so different ways, some good, some not-so.

In The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury, the main character Amelia lost her mother at a very early age, and after her death, her father disappeared. All Amelia wanted was to become a Maestro, because her mother was one. She chose flute (and that too her mother’s) as her instrument because her mother had been a flutist. And she wanted more than anything to go to Mystwick, because it was the music school her mother went too. Later in the book, she mentions (too many times!) that she felt very close to her late mother in Mystwick. And even later, her mother forms a huge part of the ending. I felt the story would have been better if it focused less on the dead mother and more on our main character.

We all know about Harry Potter. Orphaned when he was barely an infant, Harry learns more about his parents at Hogwarts. I like the little details we get, from Sirius and Snape and others, but maybe Harry could have shown a little more, I don’t know, like anger or sorrow or something for his parents throughout the series?

All’s not bad. I have come across books which have executed the dead parent trope wonderfully. Renegades by Marissa Meyer is a very good example. The murder of the mc’s (her name is Nova) parents and sister is actually shown in the very beginning, and after that it kinda takes a backseat. But it definitely fuels Nova’s hatred for the Renegades and her drive to destroy them. There are occasional mentions, enough for the reader to remember why Nova’s doing what she’s doing, but not enough to be irritating or repetitive. The perfect balance.

Then we have the parents who are very much alive, but not involved much in the story, in other words, the absent parents. I personally don’t favour this trope much. I mean, I know its fiction, but there should be something relatable, right? It is very unrealistic that the parent is totally unaware while their child is off riding dragons and/or meeting dwarves and/or nearly getting killed and what not.

In Orion Lost by Alastair Chrisholm, the adults are all in cyro sleep, leaving only the children aboard the spaceship to deal with everything. The mc’s mother and father are introduced at the beginning of the novel, but then they play no role throughout the story whatsoever. I am not saying its a bad thing, but you know, just absent parents.

Same is the case with Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend. I mean, I loved all the three books (I rated them 5 stars!) but what I want to point out is that the mc’s father (her mother is dead) has no role throughout the trilogy except being mean to her in the first few pages of the first book.

And finally we have the books which actually give importance to the parents. I feel this one is the best there is. But you know what, I am not going to talk about these books in this post. I will be discussing these in the second part of this discussion. (Sorry if you came here only for these, but that next post will hopefully be worth the wait!)

Before you leave, I would like to share the results of a small survey I conducted. I put the following question forward to a group of readers –

In a YA or MG fantasy, would you prefer –

  1. Absent Parent (Little or no role in the story)
  2. Dead Parent
  3. Parent with an important role to play

The response was quite overwhelming and one-sided. A total of 85 people answered my question, out of which 73 of them favoured the last option i.e. parents with an important role to play. Of the remaining, 4 answered ‘dead parent’ and 8 chose ‘absent parent’. This means that about 85% prefer books with active parents. I think I agree with them, such books are fun to read.

Since so many of you like books with parent participation, this is what we will be (mostly) discussing in the second part of this discussion post, and teaser – I will be including some recs (books with active parents) too! Stay tuned, it won’t be long before the Part 2 goes up!

Which kind of fictional parents do you like best in MG and YA books? What are your thoughts on portrayal of parents in fantasy for young readers? Feel free to express your opinions in the comments, I would be more than happy to have a friendly discussion!


25 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Role Of Parents In MG And YA Fantasy (Part 1)

  1. This is such a great post! It would really be nice to see more parents playing active roles in YA fiction, not just because they would make great stories BUT because it would be great to show instances of what a *healthy* parent-child relationship looks like. Fiction leads by example in a lot of instances, and it would be great for kids and teens to learn to recognize the difference between healthy and toxic behavior from authority figures as central as parents… I genuinely believe that good fiction can help with that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I completely agree with you! Most books (the ones with active parents of course) start off with an edgy parent-child relationship, but it gradually develops and becomes better and understanding, and I love seeing that.
      Thank you for dropping by, Jess!


  2. When I was younger I preferred the parents to be absent, simply because I was a kid and I liked the idea of kids doing whatever they want, but now I prefer a more realistic approach. But it all depends on the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ooh me too! I would not care about the parents at all, they annoyed me. I was much more interested in kids my age. But slowly I have realized it is important to portray the parent-child relationships in books, as it is something most children can relate to.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It feels to me like the dead parents trope is often used as a reason why our young protagonist needs to be the one to solve a huge world-ending problem instead of, you know, having adults do that. If the adults aren’t there, I guess it’s easier for the author to sell the idea of the protagonist being forced to act.
    I wouldn’t say I have a preference, but I do think it would be great to see stories where parents play a bigger role. But then again, it really depends on how the author handles the issue of making it seem like the child is the only one who can defeat the big bad or whatever it is that needs to be done. I’ve seen examples of that seeming a bit forced too. Great discussion topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, that is so very common. “If only mom/dad were here”…such a common line, and yet so many stories would never had taken place if the parents were really there! You’re right, the Chosen One trope also gets a little bit mixed into this, and anyway, which parent would allow their kid to battle dragons and whatnot😉
      Thank you for dropping by my post!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. omg i love this post so much! i think i’ve read a lot of books featuring characters with dead parents, and though i don’t have a problem with that, and actually like the way some plots of stories have been impacted by it, i also want to see more healthy parent-child relationships in books, because those are so important! they’re also extremely relatable for most of us – so i can’t wait to see your recs in post #2! lovely discussion, rachel! 💞💞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I agree! Dead parents can still play their part in adding to the book’s atmosphere, and there are so many books which have executed this in an amazing way!
      Yup, portraying healthy parent-child relations is extremely important and impactful, especially for young and coming-of-age readers (like me!). I absolutely love seeing their relationships starting off a little rocky, but gradually developing and smoothing out through the course of the story.
      Yay, glad you liked it ahaana, thank you for your kind words😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! I do understand why they kill off the parents – if the protagonists have a secure family life and nice normal parents who are paying attention, I suppose it’s less realistic for them to be off having dangerous adventures. When the parents are about though it does make a nice change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes you’re right, but there are some books (which I’ll be talking about in Part 2) in which the parents also go with the children on the adventures, and that is certainly very enjoyable.
      Thank you for dropping by!


  6. Great post! It would be nice to see some books with really healthy parent-child relationships. I feel like parents are left out a lot in books because it makes it “easier” for the protagonist to do whatever they need to do, without parents constantly hovering around them.
    I don’t really have a preference, but I would like to see more books with child-parent relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely share your views! Which parent would allow their child to save the world by nearly getting killed in the process? But of course, there are so many books in which the parents are very understanding, and join the children (I’ll be sharing some books like these in Part 2!) on their quests.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This was so true! Oftentimes, parents don’t get their worth in YA or MG books because the protagonist’s parents are dead. But I think parental figures also play a crucial role in these books, like Molly Weasley or Maryse Lightwood. They act as a sort of guide for the characters and their influences determine the MC’s decisions(s). I think that it’s great that more books are coming out devoid of the dead parents’ trope, as MG and YA are the stepping stones and are setting an example for our generation.

    Thanks for speaking out on this topic! It was really interesting to read, and I had loads of fun thinking about it! Great post ♥


    1. What you’re saying does make a lot of sense! Often, dead/absent parents give way to other parental figures who are not related to the protagonist by blood, but still play a role guiding and influencing the protagonist. Yes, it makes me happy too that now we have a lot of healthy parent-child relationships in books nowadays.
      Thank you for the comment, Maya😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I feel that all the three parent tropes are good in their own ways. But yes, there are very few active parents tropes. It’s the worst when the parent is absent but that makes no difference. The author just makes the parent irresponsible for the sake of giving the protagonist full freedom (especially when the character is a teen). This is an amazing post, Rachel! I don’t think I ever thought about parents’ roles in YA books in this light until this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post! I really wish there were more books on healthy child-parent relationships (I think this exists more in MG rather than YA). I also don’t mind complex ones where it is complicated (I think many of us can relate). I’m definitely going to read part 2!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s